SUVA, Fiji (Aug. 21, 2008) - The hopes of the interim government and its military backers are high - possibly too high - that the president’s forum will in some way endorse at least the electoral changes proposed in the draft People’s Charter.

The president’s forum, remember, is the dialogue group that will be brought together under the chairmanship of Commonwealth special envoy Sir Paul Reeves in order to seek consensus on bringing Fiji back to democracy. This political forum, however, is highly unlikely to agree on anything that would undermine the constitution, which the charter clearly does. And the regime can expect little or no support at the forum from the Fiji Labour Party, even though it would dearly like the charter’s proposed electoral reforms to be promulgated.

In that event the interim government and by extension the Republic of Fiji Military Forces will find itself in a difficult position. The regime has invested far too much of its dwindling political capital in the single issue of the charter to the extent the charter has to be accepted and in fact will be accepted. For without it, how could the regime justify its very existence? No charter, no election would become no charter, no interim government. So, the charter will be implemented.

Of course it would be infinitely preferable to have it implemented with at least a thin veneer of legitimacy which is where the high hopes for the president’s forum arise. They may well be forlorn. For this question of legitimacy will not go away. The National Council for Building a Better Fiji, the draft People’s Charter and the president’s forum itself have no constitutional standing.

All can agree and recommend all the changes they wish but they cannot alter the constitution which remains the supreme law. Now, from the interim government’s point of view, the available means of legitimizing the charter do not represent attractive options.

It could recall parliament and ask it to amend the constitution to accommodate the charter - a highly unlikely outcome to put it mildly. It could put the charter to a national referendum - an expensive exercise with, again, very little chance of achieving the desired outcome.

Or it could abrogate the constitution in order to implement the charter - but have we not been here before when the court in its Chandrika Prasad judgment rejected Commodore Bainimarama’s purported abrogation in the wake of the Speight coup?

Meanwhile, more trouble is on the way from the direction of Niue where the Pacific Forum will debate Fiji’s broken promise of a March election under the existing laws - that is to say the 1997 constitution. The outcome cannot be other than harsh.

In the domestic arena, things are little better. The Fiji Labour Party can now be expected to join its sworn enemy the Soqsoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua party in the clamor for an early election.

The two main political parties can well and truly claim to speak for the majority of the people of Fiji, leaving the interim government and the military out on a very lonely limb. It has not been a good week for the regime.

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